In the twenty-sixth and final episode of the sixth season of The Next Generation, WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO ME??? Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.
HOLY SHIT, THIS WAS SO GREAT!!!! I HAVE A LOT TO SAY!
Look, I can’t ever control or predict when this happens, but every so often, the universe gives me a beautiful coincidence. In the midst of finishing the first season of Deep Space Nine and having my spirit ripped out of my corporeal body by The 100, I get yet another story that examines the difficulty of ethics in war. There’s no way I could have known that this would happen, and I appreciate that sheer luck has dropped this in my life. I think that the relentlessly baffling mystery in “Descent, Part I” is made all the better because at the heart of it is the choice Picard made back in “I, Borg.” I don’t know if we’ll ever see Hugh again beyond the glimpses of his previous appearance here, but his story returns.
In essence: Did Picard make the right choice in returning Hugh to the Borg? I had always considered Picard’s decision to be a deeply moral one, and given what he says in this episode, my opinion hasn’t changed. Picard knew that Hugh had become a person and thus, he had to protect Hugh’s life above all else. It was his duty to do so! Thus, it becomes horribly confusing for Picard to be told by Starfleet command that not only was this choice “wrong,” but that he should seek to destroy the Borg, no matter the cost, in any future interaction with them. There is no context that can convince the Federation otherwise. This is especially hard for Picard to cope with because the Borg we see in “Descent” appear to have far more in common with Hugh than the collective.
So what if Picard was responsible for this happening? What if freeing Hugh created a separate group of non-collective Borg who are possibly more destructive than the original? As far as we can tell, they’re more violent, more aggressive, and now have the added complication of being intensely loyal and emotive towards their own. What if Picard did this? It haunts him throughout the episode, and he even lashes out at Riker in frustration. He knows he has a duty to obey his superiors, but when does that supersede his duty as an ethical person? Is he going to have to make a decision like that again?
Bravo to “Descent” for giving us a story six years in the making.
We all know that The Next Generation is largely NOT a serialized show, but this episode’s power relies on all the stories we’ve gotten about Data’s desire for humanity. Every iteration of that tale got us here, and it’s why it’s so uniformly shocking to watch Data get angry as he chokes a Borg to death in. It is an impossible reaction, at least because it is something so foreign and bizarre for Data to do. After years without a human emotion, Data suddenly experiences rage and then, even more disturbingly, pleasure for having killed a Borg. Rage and pleasure. Understandably, this CONFUSES THE HELL OUT OF DATA.
So how does Data react to this? Exactly as you would expect him to do. He analyzes. He tests himself. He arranges elaborate experiments in order to evoke another emotional reaction in himself, though all of them fail. He approaches his own emotional dawning as yet another fact to be classified and examined and dissected. And yet, what does it get him? What does he learn about himself? It’s perplexing to both Data and the viewer because there seems to be absolutely no explanation for why Data felt anger and pleasure for the first time in his existence. Was it triggered because he felt a threat to his life? Why hadn’t this awakened in him before?
It’s not until the Enterprise captures a Borg that Data begins to get closer to an answer. His scenes with the Borg are unnerving and thrilling, and I was reminded of the psychological mind games of Clarice Starling and Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs as I watched them. The Borg manipulates Data right before our eyes, all by exploiting Data’s desire for a path to humanity. It’s terrifying to watch! Of course we want the best for Data, but at what cost? It’s the same question asked of Picard, and I think that might be the inspiration for the title. How far are these men willing to descend to do what they think is right or what’s best for themselves?
Unfortunately, in Data’s case, he’s manipulated into making a shocking choice. He’s pushed into admitting the lengths he’d go to feel more emotions: KILLING HIS BEST FRIEND. Honestly, though, I don’t know that the scenes would be as compelling as they were if it wasn’t between a Borg and Data. This admission is so horrifying because we’ve seen how wonderful Data’s relationship with Geordi is, and this is how he’ll apparently get his one true desire in life? My confusion, however, comes more from the final reveal than anything else. I know I’m missing a huge part of the story, but HOW THE HELL IS THIS HAPPENING? Is this what Lore has been up to this whole time? WHY DOES HE WANT TO DESTROY THE FEDERATION? How did he further manipulate his brother? WHY IS THIS SHOW DOING THIS TO ME?
God, it’s such a great cliffhanger, and it’s a hell of a character development. I think it’s one of the most exciting things The Next Generation has done, and I am very eager to see how it’s resolved in the next episode. Oh my god, I’m about to start the last season of this show. HOW???
The video for “Descent, Part I” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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